Day 96-97: Whales in Tofino, Vancouver Island

I woke up in my bachelor pad Airbnb and used the restroom. Coming back to my room, I noticed my key inside the keyhole. I was very confused as to how it got there. Was that my key? Was it the owner’s second key? I was pretty sure I took the key out, but I couldn’t find mine. Great, I slept with the key inside the keyhole so anybody could have just walked inside.

I drove to downtown Vancouver so I could check out a store called Long Tall Sally. They make clothes for tall women and closed all of their US locations several years ago. I’ve had to order clothes online and this was my chance to try on some clothes in person. Driving through the city was frustrating and I was realizing more and more that I don’t want to live in a large city any longer.

I hate trying on clothes. It seems stores put the worst lighting in there. Plus, my weight is always fluctuating and it makes me feel depressed when clothes don’t fit. After purchasing a couple of items, I walked over to a coffee shop. The girl behind the counter rounded down the total because I was paying with cash and Canada got rid of the penny. She said they’ll probably get rid of the nickel soon.

After I got my coffee, I drove to the ferry terminal to go to Vancouver Island. I arrived at 1:50 pm and the next ferry left at 3:30 pm. The attendant said if the ferry was full, I’d have to wait until the next one at 5:30 pm. It cost $75 and I patiently waited in my car, praying there was a spot available. Thankfully, I was the last car allowed to board!

The ferry ride was beautiful. In the distance, I could see the high-rises in Vancouver. I love taking ferries as a mode of transportation because it has the added bonus of being a scenic boat ride. I wandered outside to take in the view. It was a clear day and the sun reflected off the water. We passed islands and mountains that reminded me of Norway.

The announcer made the call to return to our vehicles, so I made my way down the stairs to the lower car deck. A girl around nine years old was yelling and said, “F*ck!” Her mother said, “I didn’t think it could get any worse, but you just did it. Don’t talk like that.” The young girl started to hit her mother and the mother calmly replied, “Don’t hit me.” The girl hit her several more times as the mother kept saying, “Stop hitting me.” When we arrived at the car deck, the girl ran off as the mother shouted, “Stop!” I couldn’t resist any longer and I got right behind the little girl and sternly said, “You should show some respect.” She turned around at me with a shocked look on her face as she slowly walked back towards her mother.

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When we arrived, I started driving towards Torino. It would take a few hours to get there because it was on the other side of the island. The drive was beautiful and felt undiscovered. I drove through the tree-filled mountains, passing still lakes as the sun disappeared.

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During the drive, the Brett Kavanaugh hearing was taking place and Facebook offered the option to watch it live. I still had cell service so I played the video and I listened to it while I drove. I had the time so I was able to listen to most of the hearing. In my regular life, I wouldn’t have the time to listen to the whole hearing and instead would have to rely on news outlets to recap it. It felt awesome to be able to get the whole picture and to make my own conclusions. I didn’t have to rely on a reporter’s opinion about what happened. Most news outlets in the US unfortunately no longer report the facts without adding their personal opinion to it.

When I studied broadcasting and film in college in 2000, we were taught not to add our opinion. As a reporter, you are to remain neutral and report the facts. You shouldn’t cry when reporting about murders, for example. You just report the facts and let people come to their own conclusions. I don’t know of any news outlet in the US that simply report the facts without including biases. So for the first time in a very long time, I could simply listen to testimony and make up my own mind. I was surprised by how many people on Facebook used the phrase “believe all women.” Personally, I believe in listening to every case (testimony and evidence) before I will simply believe something.

It got dark at 7:30 pm and I didn’t arrive at my Airbnb until 9:00 pm. I had a hard time finding it on the dark country roads. The owner talked with me and helped me find it. It was more like a small lodge or a motel. I had my own room, complete with a creepy spider in the bathroom sink. At this point, all I could do was laugh since a spider was in almost every single place I stayed.

I updated my blog and went to bed late that night, so I slept in the following morning. When I opened my front double-doors I had an amazing view!

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I found two hikes in the temperate rainforest that were just a five-ten minute drive. I drove there and started to hike “trail A.” It was humid outside, but still slightly cool. I prefer temperate over tropical rainforests because they’re much cooler, but offer all of the greenery.

The trail had a wooden bridge path that wound its way through the forest with steps guiding me down and back up. Once I completed that trail, I walked across the road and did “trail B.” This was a similar trail that had a boardwalk. I passed giant trees, climbed lots of stairs, and listened to the birds sing.

Once I completed these trails, I hiked on a small trail that led to the ocean. I couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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I signed up for an afternoon whale watching tour so I drove to the meeting place. The guide said this was their last tour of the season and I was happy I made it just in time. Our group put on full-body life jackets and we walked towards the boat. There was a family of four with adult children, two couples, and another single female. They were all from Germany. On the walk over, I talked with the single female. She said that she and her partner shipped their RV from Germany and are spending a year in Canada and the US. They started in Baltimore and explored a little bit of the east coast and then drove the Trans Canada Highway to the west coast. They planned to spend the winter in Carmel, California.

We boarded the small inflatable boat and rapidly took to the ocean. The boat was loud and the quick motor meant the guide didn’t talk while we were in route. The ride was so fun! We blasted through the water, skipping off waves in search of whales. At one point, our guide got a call that there were some whales in a specific area so we waited for them to surface.

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As we sat there waiting patiently, the boat rocked up and down with each wave. I get motion sickness on boats when I can feel waves. I tried hard to convince myself that I was fine, but I was on the verge of throwing up. I slowly reached into my water-tight bag to find my Dramamine. I didn’t have any water with me and even with water, I struggle to swallow pills. However, the motion sickness was so bad, I gathered spit in my mouth and was able to get the pill down. Thankfully, it worked pretty fast and I avoided having to chuck over the side of the boat.

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All of a sudden, a whale popped up from the water! We mostly just saw the water being sprayed from his blowhole, but then we were able to see the top of his back as he went back into the water. We stayed at the spot for around 30 minutes and were able to see two whales from a distance coming up and back down a few times.

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Our guide received a call saying a baby whale about three years old was in a nearby cove. They knew of this whale and our guide was excited as he raced over to the cove. We were the only boat there and as we patiently waited, the baby whale popped up right beside our boat! Normally the guides stay farther back so they don’t scare or injure the whales, but they said this baby whale liked to surprised boats like that. It was so awesome to watch him swim around us.

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Next, we went over to some rocks sticking out of the water where a lot of sea lions were sunbathing. After watching them jump into the ocean, we drove over to an area where otters were hanging out among seaweed and logs. They looked like little stuffed animals just playing around.

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The sun was setting and we sat there watching it sparkle on the water. We made our way to shore just in time to watch the sun make its final descent.

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I said my goodbyes to the group and drove over to a fish shack that had good reviews. I ate outside in the dark with a dimly-lit light above the table. As I ate, I surfed Facebook and saw post after post on both sides of the issue about the Kavanaugh hearing. I tried to tell myself to stop reading. Stop surfing. It was only making me angry and ruining the good feelings I had from whale watching. Eventually, I put the phoneaway and tried my best to be in the moment and enjoy my fish.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 95: Train Wreck and Suspension Bridge

I checked out of my Airbnb and sat in the parking lot to book my next place in Vancouver. I didn’t get the chance to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge last time I was there, so I was heading back to see it. Before leaving Whistler, I wanted to see a literal train wreck.

I found the trail online, but the directions were confusing because there were two ways to get there. I ended up off the side of the main road on a small gravel shoulder. I found a small trail with a sign stating that I could hike at my own risk.

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I was wearing jeans, my hair was down, and I was carrying a purse. I wasn’t prepared to hike because I thought it would be a quick walk to the train cars. The trail I was on was steep and in a wooded area. It was a shorter distance than the flat path from a parking lot, but it was definitely more of a hike. I wished I had a hair tie as my sweaty hair stuck to my neck in the humidity.

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I arrived to a set of train tracks and just after I crossed, I saw the damaged train cars. In 1956, a train derailed on a section of the track that was undergoing construction and had a speed limit of 15 MPH. The freight train was going 35 MPH when it crashed. Three cars were wedged in the narrow canyon and a local logging company brought their equipment to the site to assist with the clean up efforts. According to a sign posted at the site, “Five of the derailed boxcars were salvageable, but the remaining seven were too damaged to save. Those seven boxcars were stripped of useful material and dragged out of the way, which was the quickest way to get trains back on schedule.”

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To access the train cars, people had to walk down the unsafe track, so the city created a trail. They also added a bridge over the Cheakamus River so people could safely access the site. I accidentally took the non-approved way to the site.

There was just a handful of people walking around taking pictures, so the area felt isolated and eerie. Spray paint covered the rusty cars and the metal was dented and bent.

This was just one more reason why I loved Whistler. There are so many unique places to discover. The giant train cars were fascinating to explore.

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I hiked back to my car and headed towards Vancouver. It was a beautiful, sunny day. When I drove up there from Vancouver a week earlier, it was a cloudy, rainy day and I couldn’t see much. This time, I could for miles and miles.

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I stopped a couple of times to take in the view. Lush, green mountain tops with the occasional snow-pack covered the mountains in the distance.

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As I got closer to Vancouver, I could see the ocean to my right. The sun glistened off the water. The Sea to Sky Highway was appropriately named.

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I arrived to the Capilano Suspension Bridge about two hours before they closed. That would be enough time to explore, but I’d have to hurry. The bridge is 460 feet long and 230 feet above the Capilano River.

I briefly joined a free tour with a guide and a few people, but he was taking too long so I ventured off on my own to explore. During my brief time with the guide I learned that the bridge was originally built in 1889 by George Grant Mackay because he wanted to hunt on the other side of the river. In 1903, the bridge was replaced with wire cables. The bridge was sold a couple of times and was completely rebuilt in 1956.

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In 1983, the bridge was sold to Nancy Stibbard, the current owner. In 2004, Nancy opened Treetop Adventures: seven footbridges suspended between old-growth Douglas Fir trees. The guide told us that the bridge was originally purchased for $6,000 and is now worth 7.2 billion dollars!

I arrived at the bridge and was terrified to cross it, but I had to in order to get to the tree top bridges. I stepped onto the bridge that was sturdy, but also shaky. It’s a long, scary walk to the other side. When people passed me, the bridge would sway to the left and right several inches, making me feel like it would flip over. I gripped the side railing as hard as I could and tried not to look directly down to the raging river. I told myself that thousands of people walk across this bridge everyday and they all survived.

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I happily made it to the other side and started to explore the wooden path that wound through the giant trees. I came to a section that overlooked the river where  people throw coins onto a large boulder to make a wish. I contributed and made my wish (can’t tell you what it was or it won’t come true!)

The last thing to see on that side of the bridge were the tree-bridges. This is a series of rope and wooden bridges that take you from treehouse to treehouse.

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Even though I was high off the ground, I was loving it! I felt stable enough that I didn’t feel like I’d fall. It reminded me of my favorite Star Wars movie – the one with Ewoks. Me and my sister used to have stuffed Ewoks growing up and I loved playing with mine. He was my buddy that I carried around. Walking across the trees took me to the Forest Moon of Endor (home of the Ewoks).

Once I finished with the tree-bridges, I walked across the main suspension bridge to get back to the other side. This time there was less people on it, so it wasn’t as shaky.

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Next to the bridge on that side was a walkway attached to the rock wall. It jetted off the side and I walked across it. I walked quickly and had to keep telling myself I would be fine. The drop below was terrifying!

I finished my adventure right as the bridge was closing. I only planned on staying in Vancouver one night because the following day I was taking the ferry to Vancouver Island. I knew I wouldn’t get there until late and I would leave in the morning, so I booked one of the cheapest rooms I saw for $34.

I ate near the house so I wouldn’t have to go back out once I checked in. The neighborhood wasn’t very nice and I was getting a little worried about my choice. I parked on the street and arrived at the Airbnb around 8:00 pm. It was dark outside and I followed the instructions to get inside, which said the front door is left unlocked.

I was renting a room with a shared bathroom. The owner lives there and the living room and kitchen are not shared. He rents out several rooms so he keeps the front door unlocked, but each room has its own key.

In the foyer was a rental room to the right and stairs leading upstairs. The rest of the main floor was closed off. I walked up the stairs with my bags and two men in their 30s were talking in the living room near a massage table. I tried to open the door to my room, room three, but it was locked. The key was supposed to be left in the door for me. I asked one of the guys who was wearing a robe if he was the owner and he said he was. I explained my door was locked. He checked and said, “Hm, they must have taken your room. Here, just take room four. It’s better anyway.”

Room four was right next to room three. I opened the door and there was a box spring and a mattress on the floor with a comforter. The plain room had a small desk and a tv on a simple stand. The walls had smear marks on them like someone tried to wipe them down, and nails were left where pictures once hung. It smelled of weed and spices, and it was hot. I opened the window since there wasn’t air conditioning and the noise from the metro came roaring inside.

I went back to my car to get some things, like my small fan. Once I was back inside my room, I heard the owner talking to another guest, “Hey! It’s a girl so you can put the moves on her.” The guest laughed and replied, “No, that’s the Colombians.” WTF, I have no idea what that meant. Of course they were surprised. No sane single woman would be staying in this bachelor pad.

I waited to use the shower until I thought everyone was asleep because I wasn’t about to leave my locked room. The bathroom was right next to my room and I used it first to assess if anyone was still awake. As I came out, a guy from downstairs peaked his head up, “Do you know how to use the shower? I couldn’t get it to work.”

I looked and noticed it had the same set up at an Airbnb I stayed at while I was in Anchorage. I showed him how to use it and he was grateful. I had to wait for him to shower and then I showered.

I went to bed feeling creeped out. This was one of those times traveling as a solo female can be scary. I made a choice to spend as little money as I could find on Airbnb and I definitely got what I paid for. Just like crossing the bridge earlier that day, I told myself I would be fine. This was a day of positive self talk!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 43: Welcome to British Columbia!

I was happy to have a bedroom inside a house again after spending two nights in a tent, but I had a very difficult time sleeping. I was burning up. I had the fan on me with the windows open, but spent most of the night wide awake. Still unable to sleep by 5:30 am, I gave in and played on my phone.

At 9:00 am, I was packing up my car to head out because I had a lot of driving ahead of me. Looking at the map for sleeping options in a decent-sized city, I found Prince George about an eight-hour drive away (500 miles).

I drove to Wal-Mart to get some cheap snacks for the drive ahead. I had a soft cooler on the floor of the passenger seat so I could try and eat healthy snacks (like string cheese, humus, and fruit) instead of gas station junk food.

As I left Vancouver, it felt like this would be a different chapter in my travels. It was going to be a lot of driving through British Columbia, the Yukon, and Alaska. I was excited about leaving cities behind and experiencing a part of the world not many people have seen.

The kilometers per hour confused me on the speed limit since my car shows my speed in miles per hour. I kept using a converter app to help me understand my speed. It was strange to see signs showing 100 kph (which is only 62 mph). It took me days to realize my car does show kph in small print just inside the mph.

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The first 90 minutes of the drive was flat, but the mountains loomed in the background. Then the road started winding through the mountains. I went through tunnels, saw rivers, and drove on the side of cliffs. It was hot outside, and climbing into higher elevation didn’t seem to cool things down at all.

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Parts of the mountains were dry, which reminded me of southern California. Trains passed through the corridor, wrapping around the mountains. Just as I saw a sign warning of “wildlife corridor,” I saw some big horn sheep. The sheep were mostly on the side of the road, but sometimes I had to stop and wait for them to cross.

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The rest-areas were usually situated off of a lake, with restrooms available in small wooden buildings. The entire drive was stunning.

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When I stopped to take some pictures on the side of the road, I saw white-water rafters cruising down the raging river in the gorge.

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It was close to 9:00 pm when I arrived at my motel in Prince George. The motel was located in a somewhat sketchy part of town, but I needed a place to sleep. As I carried my suitcase to the second floor, I noticed the motel was not in good shape. The carpet on the outside walkway and in my room had stains. The essentials like the bed and the bathroom seemed to be acceptable though, so I got ready for bed and went to sleep.

The next morning, I ate toast in the small restaurant and packed up my bags. As I was grabbing a bag, I noticed a small tick crawling from the side of the white sheets near the headboard to the top of the bed. Panicking, I started searching my body for ticks. I thought I was going to throw up. I’ve never seen a bug in my bed. I prayed that guy just arrived and was alone.

I carried my suitcase to the parking lot in the back of the motel where my car was parked. As I got close to my car, a skinny, wrinkly man with long gray hair in his late 50s started walking across the alley towards me. He asked where I was headed and where I was from. His name was Roger and he’s from Prince George. When he was 18, he moved to Toronto for a bit and worked at a newspaper place. He told me he delivered 3,000 papers in three hours and was faster than the trucks.

I was nervous as Roger talked to me while I loaded my suitcase. He told me he has COPD and I could hear the strain in his lungs when he talked. Then he asked me for some money. I told him I only had American cash on me and he said he’d take it. I explained that my purse was in the motel and I’d be right back. I was afraid he’d mess with my car or stuff inside if I didn’t oblige.

When I came back to my car with my purse and last of my bags, I gave him $5. He told me the Husky gas station down the road would exchange the American money for Canadian money. I appreciated his tip. He asked again where I was headed and told him north, to Alaska. He warned me that there aren’t many roads up north.

I headed out and stopped at the Husky gas station to exchange my money. The attendant said he’d exchange my money, but would give me the same amount I gave him. If I gave him $20 US, he’d give me $20 Canadian. I explained that the US dollar is stronger than the Canadian dollar, but he was basically doing it as a favor. I declined his services and went outside to pump some gas. As I was pumping, a guy in a truck next to me yelled with excitement, “Welcome to British Columbia!” and nodded towards my California license plate. I smiled and thanked him.

I headed towards Dawson Creek, where the Alaska Highway begins. It would take about four hours (250 miles) and I couldn’t wait to arrive at the start. The start of what? I didn’t know. But I couldn’t wait to see what was in store on this famous highway.

img_9710 Click here to see a quick video of the beautiful drive.
Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Day 42: A Stranger Named Pete

It was time to check out of my romantic safari tent and hit the road. Sweat started to drip from the heat and humidity as I carried items up the steep incline to my car. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was headed next and didn’t have anything booked.

I was told I needed to see the Skookumchuck Narrows before I left the area. The Skookumchuck Narrows is a straight forming the entrance of Sechelt Inlet and people come from all over the world to see it. Twice a day, the tide changes and the flow of seawater switches, reversing the direction of the rapids.

After the quick 20-minute drive, I arrived at the entrance of the trail. The sign didn’t include much information, but it said no cars were allowed. I grabbed my purse, thinking this would be a quick hike. It was touristy and some people were wearing regular clothes, so I thought this couldn’t be much of a “hike”…famous last words.

After walking down the gravel road for 15 minutes, I came to another sign: the hike would be another 4 KM (2.5 miles)! I hadn’t eaten breakfast, was carrying my gigantic purse, and wasn’t in proper hiking attire, but I didn’t feel like walking back to my car.

Once leaving that sign, the trail became an actual hiking trail. I felt unprepared without my hiking shoes and backpack, and I hate sweating in normal clothes. If I’m prepared to hike and sweat, it doesn’t bother me at all. Unfortunately, this sort of ruined the hike for me because it was such a distraction.

I passed several people walking back to their car. Some were wearing workout clothes and others were in flip-flops. I heard people speaking in Chinese, Russian, French, and English.

As I was close to arriving at the Narrows, I saw a memorial adorned with flowers. “In memory of Pete Tipping who died on Friday, July 27, 2018 while hiking with his family on this trail.”

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There was also a packet of papers inside a laminated file with information about Pete. I pulled out the papers and read through some it. It described Pete as a “Devoted husband, loving father, and a joyful soul with a smile for everyone and a joke for every occasion.” He was only 41 years old and a “towering personality, even beyond his 6’3” frame, whose genuine warmth and concern for others was an honest reminder of what the world can be and should be. He was smart but never pretentious; he was sarcastic but never mean spirited; chatty but always ready to listen; opinionated but always thoughtful.”

Pete was from Toledo, OH and had died one week before I was on the trail. I had no idea how he died. Was it from the trail? Did he trip and fall? Did he have a heart attack? It made me sad to think this guy was on vacation, probably having a great time. And just like that, he’s dead. Someone went to the effort to put a memorial there for him with his life story so I felt it deserved to be read.

It made me think about how short our lives are. When you go on vacation, you don’t expect to die. Something about dying when you’re supposed to be having such a good time made me sad. For your family members, it must feel like the rug was pulled from under their feet.

Shortly after my stop at the memorial, I arrived at the lower level of the narrows. Although I missed the time of day when the water is most active, there were little whirlpools forming all around. A boat was crossing, using all of its power to make it through the narrows.

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I leaned against a rock and took in the sun, watching the whirlpools and thinking about Pete. Reading about Pete reminded me to treat each day as a precious gift. Even on days when I don’t feel good or feel happy, I still want to appreciate it.

The breeze dried off some of my sweat and I was getting hungry. When I got close to the entrance of the trail, there was a little café that was serving baked goods and some lunch-type food. I got a sandwich and sat outside cooling off and hydrating.

It would take about an hour and a half to get back to the ferry. I still didn’t know where I was going, but figured I should head back towards Vancouver.

I stopped for gas for the first time in Canada. The price was $1.55 – so cheap!  However, the gas pumped right passed 17 gallons. That was when I realized we were talking liters, not gallons. Sometimes I forgot I was in Canada, until something like the metric system reared its head.

I arrived at the ferry and lined my car up into a stall. I had about an hour wait until the next one arrived, so I searched for places to stay on Airbnb in Vancouver. It happened to be a holiday weekend for Canada so there weren’t many places available. Those left were extremely overpriced – around $180 for a 2-star motel.

I sent a request to book a room in an Airbnb and boarded the ferry while I waited for a response. The ferry ride was just as beautiful as before.

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I was getting nervous about not having anywhere to stay when I suddenly found a room to rent on Airbnb for only $52 for the night and booked it. The room was on the east side of the city, so I didn’t arrive until 8:15 pm. I followed the instructions to open the small fence, walk down the sidewalk on the left side of the house, go up the stairs in the backyard, and find my room – number four.

As I climbed up the stairs in the back, a man in his 30s greeted me on the deck outside. He was a tenant and had been renting a room in the house for a long time. He asked me, “Are you here for room 4?” I replied, “Yes, I just booked it about an hour ago.”

The man explained that the owner had just built room four and I was the first guest. That explains why the room magically appeared online during my frantic search on Airbnb.

I walked through a shared kitchen and small living room to arrive at my room. It smelled brand new, so I opened the two small windows to let it air out. No windows screens yet again.

After bringing in my stuff, I drove down the street to Dairy Queen to eat dinner and finally tried the poutine (fries with cheese curds and gravy). It was ok – very heavy.

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My Airbnb gave me access to a washer and a dryer, so I did some laundry. As I was getting ready for bed, I went into the kitchen, where two women in their pajamas stood. I quietly asked if I could get some water and one of them sternly whispered, “Shhh! Don’t wake the baby.” They had just put a crying baby to sleep. I headed to bed, hoping I wouldn’t be awakened by the baby in the middle of the night.

As I laid in bed, I thought about my adventure so far; the ups and downs, the friends I saw along the way, and the people I had met. Tomorrow I’d start heading towards the Alaska highway, which was my ultimate destination of this trip. Thinking about Pete and his short life, I was happy that I took the plunge to quit my job and experience all of this.

In December 2016, I had my first mammogram because my grandma died of breast cancer at age 42. They saw dense tissue in my left breast and told me I need to monitor it every six months to see if it grows because it could be breast cancer. That was a wakeup call for me. I had thought, “What if I only get 42 years on this planet like my grandma? Is this how I would want to spend my last few years?” The answer was no, which is what pushed me to follow my dreams. Sometimes we need reminders from people like my grandma and Pete to help us get out of a cycle and to see the big picture. If I only get 42 years, I’ll be happy with how I’ve spent the last few years.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

Day 40: Glamping in Madeira Park

After checking out of my Airbnb and grabbing a quick breakfast at a local café, I headed to the Hard Rock casino so I could buy the one souvenir that I collect: a Hard Rock shot glass. At the front entrance of the casino, a young girl scolded me for trying to walk inside, and asked me for my ID. Surprised since the gambling and drinking age in Canada is 19, I showed her my ID. Shocked, she said, “Oh wow. I’m sorry. You just look very young for your age.” I told her it was no problem and I happily headed towards the gift shop.

While I was there, I figured it couldn’t hurt to gamble a little bit. I changed a $20 US bill for $25 Canadian dollars. Within five minutes, it was gone on slot machines. That was fine since I didn’t really have the time and I was nervous leaving my car outside with all of my stuff (worried ever since my car was broken into in Portland).

My next reservations were in Madeira Park on the Sunshine coast. It’s not technically an island, but since it’s only connected to land many miles up north with no road access, you have to take a ferry to get there from Vancouver.

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I got in line for the ferry and saw row upon row of cars lined up for the ferry to Vancouver Island. Thankfully, I was going to Gibsons, and there weren’t nearly as many people trying to get there. I didn’t have a reservation, but thankfully I made it on the next ferry. After sitting for about 45 minutes, I drove my car onto the ferry and walked to the top deck.

The 40-minute ferry ride was stunning!  The giant mountains rising above the ocean reminded me of traveling through a fjord in Norway. Not many people were outside because it was incredibly windy. So windy that I tried not to take many pictures for fear my phone would be ripped from my hand. I used my GoPro since I could grip it better.

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At the front, top deck was one other person – a guy close to my age. He was thin with blonde dreadlocks reaching his lower back. He had headphones on and looked out to the ocean in a whimsical way. I wanted to talk to him but didn’t know how to start a conversation.

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https://vimeo.com/301753810

When the ferry arrived in Gibsons, I drove my car off and headed towards Madeira Park. The road winded through the trees and gave glimpse of the ocean as it followed along the coast. I lost cell service but still made it to my next Airbnb, a tent.

I arrived to the resort at 5:30 pm and checked-in at the outdoor front desk. I had booked the “safari style” tent for $99, but it was only available for one night. They also offered cabins, but I wanted the experience of staying in a safari tent. I asked the women if they had anything available for a second night and she said the only one they had available was their private, romantic tent. It cost more but since she didn’t have it booked, she’d give it to me for two nights at a discount.

I figured since I spent the time and money getting there, I should stay for two nights, so I told her to sign me up for the romantic private tent.

The only problem with this tent is that I had to park my car on this little gravel area just off a road on their property, walk down a steep gravel road, then down steep stairs, before arriving to my tent.

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See my car in the top left corner

The tent had a front porch and a side porch with two chairs and a mosquito net.

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I unzipped the plastic covering over the door, unlatched the screen door, and went inside.

It had a beautiful bed, a small table, and a little fireplace-looking heater. The wood floor was nice to have for a tent, but it had cracks in it between boards and I worried bugs would get in. It definitely had a romantic vibe and I was a little sad I didn’t have a partner to spend time with there…like that cute, dreadlocked stranger on the ferry.

The property also had a porta potty near a large wooden gate to keep the area private. In front of the cabin was a ravine falling away into a river below.

After I brought a few things down the hill from my car, I was ready for dinner. I walked down the road past the cabins to the restaurant they had on site. The entire place was very outdoorsy and I only had cell service in a couple of spots.

The only food available was at the Italian restaurant near the check-in area, which was pretty expensive. Having no other options, I sat down and ordered some salmon tortellini and dessert.

As I was finishing dinner, the sun was setting across the lake on the other side of the main paved road. The resort owned the dock entrance to the lake so I walked over and took some pictures.

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On the way back to my tent, I walked across a shaky low bridge over a lake and past the cabins again.

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To wash my face, I had to walk back up the hill near my car to use the shared bathrooms. It was now dark so I headed back to my cabin. String lights lit up the porch and surrounded the tent, which helped.

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Once inside, I saw a spider hanging out in the corner. I figured he’d leave me alone and I was in his territory so I didn’t kill him. Having no cell reception or TV, I read a book and went to sleep. However, as I started to fall asleep, I heard something walking towards the tent. I figured it was my mind wandering, but then I definitely heard something or someone walking on the rocks right outside my tent.

My heart started racing. Was it a person who would attack me? Was it a bear who would eat me? I was defenseless with no cell reception. I tried to rationalize it by saying my tent was secluded and someone would have to climb down the hill and stairs, or open the wooden gate to even know I was there. If it were a bear, he’d have to climb up the ravine. I panicked at the sound of each leaf I heard crumpling.

I slowly got up, put on my glasses, and closed the plastic flaps over the two screened windows. I slowly laid back in bed, trying to prevent the bed from creaking. For some reason, having my glasses on and being wide awake staring at the ceiling made me feel better – like I would be prepared for an attack. I tried not to make any noise and hoped whatever was out there would eventually leave.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider

 

Day 39: Feeling Vulnerable on a Hike

During the bike tour, the guide recommended a few hikes in the area that I wanted to try. I was already staying on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver, so the drive would be an easy 15 minutes to the trail head.

That morning, I finished up a blog post about how I had felt on day 5: depressed. I was nervous about posting it because it was so raw. The beginning of my trip was not easy. I experienced a tremendous amount of change in a very short period of time and had a hard time figuring out my new normal.

I uploaded the blog post and left for the hike around 4:00 pm. When I arrived at Eagle Bluff Trail, the Olympic rings were still on display from 2010. There was a vacant ski lift, swaying in the cool summer breeze. The clearing of trees showed the runs that skiers traversed the hills during the winter months.

The total trail was just under six miles and 1,500 ft elevation gain. Large rocks quickly appeared on the dirt trail, making the incline a little more difficult. I passed several ponds and lakes.

The green trees against the bright blue sky reminded me of why I wanted to go to the Pacific Northwest so badly. After being in the California drought for more than a decade, it was what I needed. I could feel life growing in the forest.

Continuing to climb, the trail turned into roots from the towering trees above. They provided great shade, but were definitely trip hazards. A fellow hiker tripped on a root when she looked up to see me and fell. The guy with her and I made sure she was ok and they continued on.

Starting the trail, I didn’t have cell service. As I continued to climb, cell service would sporadically appear and a text message would come through – messages of concern from friends and family. Then the Facebook notifications appeared. Words of encouragement after reading my blog post on depression.

I started to panic and thought, “Why did I post that? I shouldn’t have written about it.” I felt embarrassed and exposed as I thought about all of the people who I’m connected with on Facebook – old coworkers, family, friends, and neighbors. I desperately wanted to take down the post but didn’t have much cell service. The entire climb up, I worried about that post and how it would make me look: weak.

When I arrived at the top of the mountain, there were a few people taking pictures and enjoying the view. I found a large rock to sit on, eat a powerbar, and admire the view. It was incredible!

Looking to the west, I could see mountains surrounded by the ocean. To the south was the ocean with some smoke in the background from a fire burning in the bog. To the southeast was the city of Vancouver. With 180 degree, the views didn’t stop.

I sat in awe and reminded myself that the reason I’m blogging about my trip is because I want people to experience what I’m experiencing. Sometimes it’s lonely, scary, and confusing. I was determined not to be afraid of revealing who I really am. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to please others and to be “good enough.”

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I believe God created each of us to be unique and I think he delights in who we are. I try my best to follow the path God has set for me. But society, parents, the workplace, friends, the church, and strangers all have expectations of who we should be. After trying to get the approval of all of these people, I finally broke. It was exhausting and left me feeling alone. Over the last few months, I decided to be me. I have to keep reminding myself of this as it doesn’t come naturally. I’m a people pleaser and I hate disappointing people. I decided I would leave the post up.

The climb was worth the view. A chipmunk attempted to get into my backpack several times and I had to keep scaring him away. I headed back down the mountain so I would finish before dark. On my way back down, I took a wrong turn and ended up at the top of the ski lift. I saw two very fit and attractive guys who looked to be in their late 20s taking photos. One guy had his shirt off, while the other took pictures. They also had a small dog with them. I couldn’t help but laugh in my head. Hopefully the pictures were for something legitimate, but I wondered if they were for his Tinder profile.

When I walked around the ski lift area, the bugs started to attack and they seemed to love my ears. The buzzing sound would make me scream every time. The guys I had seen a few minutes earlier showed up and asked if I knew where the trail was to get back down. I told them I think we made a wrong turn and it was back up the other way. Of course, a bug flew near my ear and I screamed, looking like a maniac.

The guys started heading down the rocky path. I went back to the trail and headed towards where I thought it diverged. I ran into a group of four young, attractive people in their 20s. One of the girls asked me for directions and I showed her on my map where they needed to go. I asked if they were heading to the top because it was getting pretty late. They said they were heading to the top to watch the fireworks.

My bike tour guide told me about the fireworks. It was their annual firework competition. Sweden was going to display their best fireworks by setting them off from a barge in the water. The previous Saturday, South Africa showcased their fireworks and the final show would be the following Saturday with South Korea.

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I didn’t want to hike down in the dark after the fireworks. Plus, I had a great view of the harbor from my Airbnb. I continued to the bottom and made it my car around 9:00 pm. When I got back to the Airbnb, I realized I didn’t have any food. I used Yelp to find a place, but most places didn’t deliver to West Vancouver.

I called a pizza place in West Vancouver and asked if they’d deliver. The man who answered was annoyed and said he would not deliver because they closed at 10:00 pm and he’s really busy. I said it was only 9:20 pm but I could come pick it up. After arguing with him, and having to call him back, he took my order and said, “If you’re not here to pick it up in 15 minutes, I’m closing up and you won’t be able to pick it up”. Dang.

I hurried there and picked up my pizza. They were not busy and I’m guessing he just wanted to close early to see the fireworks. I took my pizza back to the Airbnb and ate in the large dining room that overlooked the harbor. I sat in the dark so I could see the fireworks better. For 30 minutes, Sweden showed off their best fireworks in a stunning show.

I read through the messages, comments, texts, and emails that people had sent me about my blog post. Even though I still felt embarrassed, it felt good to know so many people could relate to my struggle and were there to encourage me when I needed it. I’m not alone. To date, that’s one of my most read posts.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider

 

Day 38: Bike Tour in Vancouver, BC

I signed up for an afternoon bike tour with Cycle Vancouver that started in downtown Vancouver. It was advised not to drive into the city because parking was around $20. I pulled up the Uber and Lyft apps, but received a notification saying they was not available in that area.

I didn’t realize how accustomed I had become to using Uber and Lyft. I looked for taxis on Yelp and called one. It was only about 6-7 miles to downtown Vancouver from where I was staying in West Vancouver, but they quoted me $25 each way. This is why I never use taxis. An Uber or Lyft would have cost me around $7-$10.

I decided to drive but was now running a little behind. Fighting downtown city traffic, I found a parking garage for $13 for the day if I parked all the way on the top – going up 8 floors.

I jogged down the stairs, paid for parking, and hit the street with about five minutes until the tour started. Rushing into the bike store slightly out of breath, I told the handsome guy who looked to be in his late 20s or early 30s that I was there for a tour. It appeared there were several groups getting ready to ride. He was friendly, smiled, and got me a bike suitable for my height, and took me outside to meet my tour guide, Ben.

Ben welcomed me to the group and we all introduced ourselves. About six of us were going on the tour. It was sunny, warm with a cool breeze, and a beautiful day. The bikes we were using were electric bikes. I’ve done a lot of bike tours in cities around the world but have never used an electric bike. Ben gave us instructions and it was pretty straight forward. We’d still peddle like normal, but the bike would assist us going up hills.

We first rode through the city towards Stanley Park. We learned more about the city, the totem poles that have been put up to remember the tribes once located there, statues, bridges, and the beach. The tour lasted several hours, with stops every 15 minutes or so to take pictures.

The tour guide, Ben, was around 5’10” with blonde hair and blue eyes, and looked like Aaron Paul (when he was younger). From the beginning of the tour, I was right behind Ben so we ended up talking a lot. We got along really well and had some fun conversations.

Ben is from Ottawa and came to Vancouver to get his film degree. After college, he spent time on film sets as part of the production team. This involved carrying heavy items around in the rain for 12-15 hours a day with relatively low pay.

Ben got tired of that so he went to work in a sound studio where he was working in an office, which was pretty boring. In April, he ran into a college friend at a bar after not seeing him for a while, who told him about doing bike tours. His friend had opened his own bike shop and asked Ben if he wanted to do tours. Ben decided being in nature daily sounded a lot better than being in an office, so he quit his job and started doing bike tours.

I told Ben that I also studied film in college so I know how hard it is, and we bonded over that. I asked Ben why Uber and Lyft aren’t available there and he said, “Places like LA roll out new things and work out the kinks as they go. In British Columbia, we wait for places like LA to work out all the kinks first, and then we’ll join.” I said, “We’ll, you’re pretty far behind on the ride-sharing opportunities”.

Ben told me he likes living in Vancouver because he’s “a sweater guy”. I laughed at that and asked what he meant. He replied, “You know, I like wearing sweaters. I don’t like wearing shorts.” He was currently wearing blue jean cut-off shorts and a t-shirt. For some reason, I pictured him wearing a cardigan and it just didn’t fit his vibe.

“Vancouver is currently in an affordability crisis with housing”, Ben described. “There is a difference between an expensive city like Los Angeles, and an affordability crisis like Vancouver. In Los Angeles, you have jobs that can support the high cost of housing. But in Vancouver, we don’t have jobs that support million dollar condos.”

Ben and I talked so much while riding, I think the others were starting to notice. It felt nice to meet someone I could easily talk to. I asked Ben how hard it was to move to Canada, being an American. He went through the list of all the ways, like being a skilled a worker for something they are in need of. Overall, it isn’t very easy and it takes years. After he listed all of the typical ways, he said, “Of course, there’s always the ‘marry a Canadian’ way”. I said, “That’s true.”

I told Ben he looked like Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad and he said he hasn’t watched that show because he’s a contrarian – a person who opposes popular opinion. Of course he is a contrarian. I always find this type of guy attractive. I told him Breaking Bad is actually my favorite show and even though it’s popular, he should watch it.

As we continued to ride, we stopped at a lake that had a few beavers, saw the hockey stadium, and passed through the beach. Towards the end of the tour, we rode through Chinatown and the Gastown, which is the current hip neighborhood that has been gentrified. We were about finished with the tour and I asked Ben how old he was. He said he was 24. What?! I thought he was around 30. Apparently, I’m terrible at guessing age.

We finished the bike tour and I used the restroom. When I came out, Ben was talking to a customer at the counter about something in French. “What?! He speaks French too! Nice”, I thought. Once he was finished, I gave Ben my card and told him it was nice meeting him. He shook my hand and said he also enjoyed meeting me. I asked for food recommendations for dinner and he told me about a sushi place up the street.

On the way to get sushi, a young woman approached me and asked if I could spare 30 seconds for her to explain the cause she was raising money for. I accepted her 30 second challenge and she did a nice job explaining she was raising money to help kids starving in Yemen and for $20/month, I could help. I told her that her speech was well done, quick, and I would help but I’m unemployed now and can’t really afford $20 a month. She said she was from Palos Verde (only about 30 minutes from I lived in California). She shook my hand, thanked me for listening, and said it was good experience for her.

After sushi, I headed to a famous ice cream shop by the water. The line wasn’t crazy long, but would take about 15 minutes. As I waited in line outside, an old man was sitting at a table and told his friend, “These guys waited 30 minutes for ice cream. Young people have that kind of time.” “Ok….”, I thought. “You’re just sitting here doing nothing, so it looks like you have plenty of time, dude.”

I enjoyed my ice cream sitting on a bench overlooking the water. The city looked beautiful as the sun set.

Since my car was parked for the day, I figured I should see more of downtown so I headed to the Gastown area. A lot of little shops were closed but restaurants and bars were hopping. I went into The Alibi Room and the wait for a table was over an hour. Thankfully, there was one seat available at the bar so I headed there. This is one of the nice things of traveling alone – I can usually sneak into the bar and avoid the wait.

After enjoying a flight of beers and some edamame, I decided to leave because the place had actually emptied out quite a bit. When I got back to my Airbnb, I went to the kitchen to get some water and ran into a guy. He looked to be in his late 20s, with brown hair, and pretty average looking. His girlfriend came and joined us when she heard us talking in the kitchen. She was around his age, with long, dark blonde hair, and a little overweight.

They had just arrived to the Airbnb and wanted to know if I knew of places to go out for nightlife. I said there likely isn’t anywhere as it was around 10:30 pm on a Tuesday night. The place I was at died down by 9:30 pm and that was in downtown. I explained we were in West Vancouver, and Uber and Lyft aren’t available there. They were shocked not to have Uber and Lyft and tried to think through their options. They also wanted to shower first so I explained by the time got anywhere, it’d be 11:30 pm, and I didn’t think they’d have any luck.

The couple was from North Carolina and they flew into Oakland, California on Friday night. They bragged that on Saturday, they explored San Francisco for eight hours and saw more than most people see in eight days. “We saw everything”, they bragged. That night, they drove to Portland (an 8-hour drive), which meant they were awake for 36 hours by the time they arrived in Portland in the late morning. I told them it was a shame they drove through Northern California at night as it’s an absolutely beautiful drive. They looked disappointed and I could see them trying to calculate how they could see it on their way back.

The day they arrived to Vancouver, they had woken up in Portland and driven four hours to Seattle, Washington. They did some sightseeing and then drove another three hours to Vancouver.

The next day, they planned on checking out Vancouver and then taking the ferry to Port Angeles, Washington. Their plan was to stay north of Olympic National Park, do some basic hiking, and then drive to the coast and stay the night. They were just booking things as they went. They had eight days to do all of this and their flight left from San Francisco.

They were generally nice people, but I was irritated by their “cram everything into eight days” mentality. Seeing four major cities, a national park, and the ocean in eight days (and covering over 1,000 miles) seemed like such a shame to me. This represented a mentality in travel that I think is spreading – quantity over quality.

People try and cram everything in just to say they’ve been there. Spending eight hours in each city is not doing the city any justice. Personally, I prefer to see fewer places but spend more time there, really getting to know the city and the people. I often see people’s profiles on dating apps state how any countries they’ve been to. I don’t count the countries or states. I’m just not into volume. I’m into great personal experiences and taking my time.

The couple didn’t know much about hiking. I explained that I had spent four days backpacking in Olympic National Park and there are bears so they are required to carry a bear can. They had no idea what a bear can was and as I described things they’d encounter, like banana slugs, they seemed terrified. I showed pictures and explained the rules for backpacking and camping. They said, “Wow, you’ve just prepared us so much more now.”

We talked until midnight so they never made it out to see the nightlife. I hoped that I had prepared them for what they were about to encounter. As I laid in bed, I was happy about my travels. I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – something I worked 22 years to be able to do and enjoy. But I’ve been able to see so much, meet local people, and learn the history of places. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Post Edited By: Misty Kosek

 

Day 37: Airbnb and Dairy Queen in West Vancouver

After making it through the Canadian border, I headed towards Vancouver.

I couldn’t check into my Airbnb until 5:00pm and I was hungry so I stopped at a Dairy Queen for something to eat. It was in downtown West Vancouver, close to my Airbnb. It seems Dairy Queen is very popular in Canada – they’re everywhere and people eat the warm food, in addition to the ice cream.

On the menu board, there was something called poutine. I asked the young guy at the register what that was. He said, “You’re not from here, are you?” I said I was American and had never heard of poutine. He described it as french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. They have poutine eateries, which is their specialty, but he said Dairy Queen has one of the best poutines around, compared to places like McDonalds. As intriguing as the poutine sounded, it seemed heavy and like a big bowl of fat.

I ordered a burger and fries (I know, not much better) and forgot I did not have Canadian money. I used my Chase Sapphire card, which has zero foreign transaction fees. I asked what their money was called, and the guy said, “dollars”. “Oh, that’s interesting. So it’s just the Canadian dollar.” I replied.

I used a money conversion app on my phone to see the difference and thankfully, the US dollar was stronger than the Canadian dollar. For every $1 US dollar, it was around $1.30 Canadian, so my money stretched a little further. It was really nice when I’d look at my credit card and see the amount I was actually charged in US dollars was always slightly less than what I was charged in Canadian dollars. The higher the price, the larger the difference. If I was charged $75 Canadian dollars, it would actually only cost me around $57 US dollars. This was a nice change from traveling to Europe, where the US dollar has always been much weaker than the pound and the euro (when I’ve visited).

I ordered the meal, which came with a soda (they call it pop). I don’t usually drink soda, but decided to get one that day. The guy behind the register proudly told me their soda doesn’t have any high fructose corn syrup like the US soda has.

I sat down at the high counter that looked out the window, near the registers. The guy who took my order started talking to me. Then another employee came over to talk as well. The first guy was the supervisor, slightly overweight, in his late 20s with light brown hair. The 2nd guy was in his mid-20s, skinny with brown hair.

We talked about the differences in the US and Canada with healthcare, politics, and the housing problems. The guys thought banning straws was ridiculous and a small battle to be fought. They described Vancouver as being in a crisis with affordable housing, and the government wasn’t doing anything to stop it. They said the reason it’s become unaffordable was because of foreign investments in the housing market, mostly from the Chinese.

The supervisor was very passionate about this topic. He pointed out that every city needs workers at places like Dairy Queen, and managers of those places. The employee level jobs at these establishments were good jobs for people in college and high school. But he pointed out that they also need managers and if managers (and employees) can’t afford to live in a city, they will move. There will be nobody left to do those jobs. That’s why it’s a crisis.

We also discussed guns because they had the impression that the US loves guns and nobody in Canada has a gun. It was interesting because the supervisor said he has a friend whose dad lives in an old mill town in the US that has gone down hill because the jobs disappeared. The man sleeps with a gun under his pillow because of the crime level. The supervisor told the story and said, “I understand why he has a gun there; it’s not safe in the US.”

I told the guys that they should be careful of the impressions they get on the news. Yes, there is crime in the US, and some cities are unsafe. However, most places in the US are safe and you don’t need to sleep with a gun under your pillow. It was eye-opening to see how impressions of countries are made by watching the news.

The guys also told me how Vancouver has become the second Hollywood where movies and shows are filmed regularly. This is because the city is tax friendly, has relatively good weather, and now has a lot of skilled workers in the film industry living there.

The conversation with the guys was fun and interesting. They seemed to enjoy talking to an American and discussing the differences in our countries.

It was now 5:00 pm and I was able to check into my Airbnb. You might recall from a previous post that when I searched for an Airbnb days earlier, I found some pretty crazy places – like a couch in someone’s living room. I got lucky and found a room available in a 9-bedroom mansion on the side of a mountain in West Vancouver for about $52 (US) a night.

I drove up the mountain and parked my car in one of the three spaces available in the small driveway. I followed the instructions to get inside since the owner doesn’t live there and rents out all of the rooms.

The house was large, with a spiral staircase, but had a very minimal look inside. The furniture was very basic and there weren’t any decorations. I climbed up the spiral staircase to the 2nd floor and found my room. My room came with a shared bathroom, which was directly next to my bedroom.

There was no air conditioning and there happened to be a heat wave. I opened the window for some air and discovered there was not a screen. “That’s strange, Seattle didn’t have a screen either”, I thought. I also opened the sliding door, which opened to a small private patio to the backyard. Again, no screen door.

The room had a bed that was low to the ground, two night stands, and basic desk. There was not a TV in the room, which I was getting very used to.

I walked around the house and discovered the dining room and kitchen, both which had amazing views out their giant windows to the ocean down below. The top floor had more bedrooms and another spiral staircase leading up there.

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As I was unloading my car, a couple in their early 30s pulled up in hiking clothing. They were staying in the suite that had a separate entrance. They asked me if I could let them inside the main house because they hadn’t been able to see it yet (they were only provided instructions for entering their suite). I let them in and they were in awe of the view.

I got settled into my room and then walked to the kitchen to get some water. In the dining room, I noticed a large, creepy-looking spider handing in the window. I hate spiders, but there was something fascinating about this spider. I thought it was strange that my previous Airbnb in Seattle had a spider web with a spider in the window. As you’ll see in future posts, this would be the start of having a spider in almost every single place I would stay.

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I retreated back to my room and hoped a spider would not crawl through my open window. I could handle the random flying bug making its way inside. I searched for things to do in Vancouver and booked a bike tour for the next day. I was excited to be in Canada as this felt like the real start of my adventure – unknown territory.

Post Edited By: Misty Kosek